Archive for the Chapter Samples Category

The Curse (Chapter One Sample)

 

Chapter 1

The endless barrage of rain crashed down to Earth. It poured out of a dark sky smothered in thick, bloated clouds that hung low over the once-thriving metropolis.

The man who rode on horseback down 42nd Street didn’t seem to mind the rain. Not judging by the contented, almost serene glow in his eyes. There was a smile on his face too. The soft clip-clop of the horse’s hooves on the wet road was the sound of a leisurely stroll in progress; it was a gentle, even soothing noise, and in stark contrast to the angry weather.

There were over a hundred women lined up on either side of the street, waiting for the man to pass by. They watched him – all of them, a silent and tentative welcoming committee with their heads buried under a sea of brightly colored umbrellas.

Every now and then, an anxious face would peer out from the rim of an umbrella, eager for a glimpse of the latest visitor to their community.

A man.

There was a man in town.

Eda Becker stood in line too, but unlike the majority of the other women, she didn’t bother to shield herself from the deluge with an umbrella. Eda had always liked the feel of the rain – even the icy cold variety – on her head. The books had a word for that – they said she was a pluviophile – a lover of rain and it was a good thing too, considering the nature of the weather these days. The older women in the Complex liked to say that Mother Nature was overworked, that she was still trying to clean the last traces of blood off the streets from the war. Eda couldn’t see any blood on the streets, no matter how hard she looked. The others would be quick to remind her that just because she couldn’t see the blood, that didn’t mean it wasn’t still there.

Eda wasn’t sure what they meant by that.

The rainfall grew more intense. By now it sounded like there were a hundred horses on the road, their heavy hooves stamping off the hard surface, all of them galloping at full speed.

At last, Eda was forced to pop up the hood on her maroon rain cloak.

She watched the man on horseback pass her by and decided to follow him as discreetly as she could. Quietly, the sound of her footsteps lost in the downpour, Eda took a step backwards, removing herself from the long and rigid line of women that had gathered outside to greet the grinning man.

She walked behind the line, keeping her head down. Her eyes stayed alert however, tracking the man’s path as he made his way towards the entrance to Grand Central.

Eda wasn’t doing anything wrong or expressly forbidden. But nobody else had stepped out of line to get a better view. Their loss – it wasn’t every day a man showed up in New York. As she walked parallel to the visitor, she could hear the horse’s hooves still clicking on the ground. It was a strangely satisfying sound, completely new to her. Eda glanced over and saw the permanent grin on the man’s leathery and red grizzled face – it was a gargoyle smile that stretched far and wide. His gray trenchcoat dripped endless streams of water. So did the cowboy hat, tilted back on his skull at a slight angle to allow a better view of the surroundings.

The women broke into a sudden round of applause. It was a muted but joyful gesture of appreciation. They clapped one hand against the knuckles of the other – the one that still gripped the handle of their umbrellas. Although the end result was somewhat muffled, it was at least enthusiastic.

The grinning man waved to the women standing on both sides of the street. There was something regal about the gesture. At that moment, he was like a beloved hero coming home after a long, painful absence. As he smiled, the deep lines and grooves on his old face got deeper.

At last, the horse was brought to a stop close to the entrance of Grand Central. The man dropped the reins, dismounted and as he stretched his stiff limbs, he took a long look around at his surroundings.

The women’s applause began to fade and soon there was only the sound of the rain again.

Eda crept forward, still intent on getting as close to the action as possible. Fortunately nobody was paying much attention to what she was doing. As she approached the end of the line, not far from the station entrance, she watched the grinning man as his eyes scoured the bruised and battered surroundings of Manhattan.

His grin slowly faded and Eda wondered if he was remembering the past.

The area he was looking at had been a major crosstown street in the borough of Manhattan and housed some of the city’s most recognizable buildings. Some of them were still intact but many were gone now. The New York Public Library was a pile of rubble, as was the former Headquarters of the United Nations. Times Square looked more or less like a crater, but Grand Central Terminal had remained untouched – a minor miracle considering its importance during the war when it had performed a crucial role in supply transportation.

A tall woman with an umbrella stepped out of the station entrance. She walked onto the street and approached the man at a steady pace. Like Eda, this woman appeared to be undisturbed by the intense rainfall that had besieged the city. She wore a bright red rain cloak – the sort of garment that was worn by all the women in the Complex. These were essentially old raincoats with large hoods and long cloak-like tails that trailed down the back, stretching almost to the heels. These had been stitched together from a variety of different items scavenged across the city. The rain cloaks weren’t pretty by any means, but they were warm and bulky, so much so that it looked like the wearer had a tent wrapped around them.

Long strands of greyish-brown hair poked out of the edges of the woman’s hood.

Upon seeing the woman in the red cloak, Eda stepped back into the end of the line. Mission accomplished – she was now only a short distance away from the grinning man and his horse. She lowered her hood and tried to act like she’d been standing there all along. Despite this, Eda could feel some of the women in the opposite line staring at her, or maybe she was just imagining it. It didn’t matter. With any luck she’d be able to listen in on the upcoming conversation with ease.

“Welcome to New York,” the woman said.

She raised her umbrella, positioning it over the grinning man’s soaking head.

“Welcome to the Complex,” she said, offering an outstretched hand. “My name is Shay and I’m very pleased to meet you.”

The man didn’t say anything at first.

He patted his horse on the side and a long time seemed to pass before he accepted the offer of a handshake.

Shay turned around and gestured to someone standing behind her. Almost immediately, a middle-aged woman in a brown rain cloak came up behind them. The woman pointed to the horse, then said something to the man that Eda couldn’t hear. The man nodded and a moment later, the woman took the lead rope in hand and led the horse away from the station.

“This is the Complex?” the grinning man said.

“Yes it is,” Shay said with a nod. “Have you traveled far?”

The man nodded. For a second, he looked old and exhausted in the face. His body sagged a little too. Eda guessed he was probably in his early sixties but it was hard to tell with people of that generation – the war had put so many years on them that most were older than their appearance would suggest. No matter how much they smiled, the past would show up sooner or later in their eyes, that little trace of leftover heartache that always wore them down gradually.

He was a big man. He literally towered over Shay, which was quite a feat considering that Shay herself was at least six feet tall without her boots on. As she stood beside him, she had to work to keep the umbrella over his head.

“Well I met your ambassador,” the grinning man said, wiping the damp hair off his face. “She was quite a gal.”

“Which ambassador?” Shay asked. There was a curious glint in her eyes.

The man shrugged like he didn’t really care. Eda saw him glance towards the tip of the Chrysler Building, its distinctive presence still towering above the city skyline. The grinning man’s eyes lingered there for a few seconds before he turned his attention back to Shay.

“Oh I’m not sure,” he said. “Deborah? Deirdre? Any of those ring a bell? It was definitely a ‘D’ name – of that much I’m sure. She was about fifty years old, maybe a little older. Real skinny bag of bones type. She looked hungry as hell but a real determined gal you know? It looked like she’d crawled through Hell and swum across the Lake of Fire before she found me.”

“Denise,” Shay said. “So you came up from the south?”

“Yeah,” the grinning man said. “Been in Pennsylvania for a while but I wandered up from Virginia originally.”

“Virginia?” Shay said. “What’s it like down there?”

“Dead,” the man said, shaking his head.

“You saw no one?” Shay asked.

“Virginia’s a ghost state,” the man said. “There’s no one there anymore. I bumped into a couple of old-timers living out of a bus in Pennsylvania but that was it. I’m telling you, America’s gone – it’s really gone. You gotta see it to really appreciate that fact. This here’s the biggest crowd I’ve seen in a very long time. What have you got here anyway? One hundred, two hundred people? And all ladies too – guess that makes me kind of special, right?”

Shay’s lips curled into a half-smile.

“And what did Denise tell you?” she asked.

“She told me what I needed to know,” the grinning man said. “Told me you little ladies got a special project going on right here in New York. What a story that was – fascinating.”

He raised his eyebrows. The grin on his face was devilish.

“Project with a capital ‘P’,” he said. “Isn’t that right?”

“Yes,” Shay said.

The man looked over his shoulder at the women who’d welcomed him to the city. They were still standing in two neat lines on either side of the street.

“I know what you need,” he said, turning back to Shay. “So where is she? Is she standing over there with the rest of them? Where’s the girl with the face that launched a thousand ships?”

“You don’t waste any time do you?” Shay said, with a soft laugh. “I thought you’d be exhausted after such a long…”

“Helen of Troy,” the man said, butting in abruptly. “I’ve had a long journey and it was all to meet her. To do what we have to do. So where is she?”

“She’s not here,” Shay said.

The grinning man frowned.

“I hope she’s somewhere close,” he said.

Shay nodded. “Of course she is,” she said. “Didn’t Denise tell you? Helen is kept separate from the rest of the women in the Complex for many reasons. She resides in the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue and right now she’s getting ready to greet you.”

The man laughed loudly, a spluttering noise that sounded like something was clogged up in his throat.

At the same time, Eda caught Shay looking over at her. There was a strange look on the older woman’s face – something that Eda couldn’t quite pin down.

Pity? Amusement?

“Eda,” Shay said. “You weren’t standing there earlier.”

Eda felt like all the eyes in New York had turned towards her. Her skin was burning. She opened her mouth to say something to Shay but the words were stuck on the tip of her tongue.

Shay smiled.

“If you’re going to take such an interest in our conversation,” she said, “why don’t you come over and offer to carry this gentleman’s bag while I show him around? Make yourself useful, yes?”

Now it was the grinning man’s turn to have a look at Eda. As he glanced over his shoulder, his eyes narrowed. It was as if he was looking at a rare and peculiar species of animal – some form of life that he didn’t quite understand.

He licked the rainwater off his lips.

“Cute,” he said.

Eda’s body stiffened.

“Eda?” Shay said, beckoning the young woman over with a curled finger. “Get the gentleman’s bag please.”

Eda nodded and crept forward. Despite the discomfort she felt at being singled out, she would at least get to follow Shay and the stranger around for a while longer and listen in further on their conversation.

“You don’t need to show me around,” the grinning man said, looking at Shay. “Truly ma’am. I’d prefer to get right down to work if you don’t mind. Or isn’t she fertile right now?”

“As a matter of fact she is,” Shay said. “Usually men show up at the wrong time and so we’ll put them in a hotel until Helen’s body is ready to receive. As far as I can recall, you’re the only one who’s ever arrived at the perfect time. It’s almost like it’s a sign, wouldn’t you say?”

The man nodded. “Lucky me.”

“Yes indeed,” Shay said. “Nonetheless, Helen isn’t quite ready for you yet. She won’t be long and in the meantime, why don’t you let me show you around? I can tell you a little about what’s happening here in the Complex. After that, you can go straight to work. I promise.”

The man looked too tired to argue with Shay.

“Sure thing,” he said.

“Eda!” Shay said. “Come on. Get the gentleman’s bag please.”

Eda nodded and hurried over to where Shay and the grinning man were waiting. She heard some of the women sniggering at her back but she didn’t care. Let them stand there in the rain and get soaked.

“Can I take your bag?” Eda asked the man. She kept her distance from the newcomer but couldn’t fail to miss the peculiar smell of aged leather that drifted off either his clothes or skin.

There was a withered backpack at the man’s boots.

“I can carry my own bag,” he said. “There’s not much in there.”

“Nevertheless,” Shay said, stepping forward. “You’re our very special guest and if we treat our beloved Helen like a queen then you must let us treat you like a king. It’s only fair.”

The man smirked and scratched at the jagged stubble sprouting up off his chin. With a nod, he picked up the small bag and thrust it into Eda’s hands.

“Whatever makes you ladies happy,” he said. “There you go sweetheart. You’ll take good care of that for me, won’t you?”

“Thank you,” Eda said. “I mean, yes I will.”

He laughed.

Eda slung the bag over her shoulder and it weighed next to nothing, almost like it was empty. She imagined that the long hunting knife strapped to the grinning man’s waist was the most important possession he carried around with him. He must have been quite the skilled hunter to survive out there with just his wits and a sharp blade.

The three of them walked towards the entrance of the station. Eda kept a few paces behind the others, hoping that they’d forget she was there.

“Why this place?” the grinning man asked. “Why Grand Central?”

“It’s intact for a start,” Shay said. “But we don’t live or sleep here – it’s more of a gathering point for the women. It’s the heart of our community.”

“So where do you sleep?” the man asked.

“Nearby,” Shay said. “The women help themselves to whatever accommodation they can find. Hotels, abandoned apartments or stores – it’s entirely their choice when it comes to where they spend the night.”

“And where do you live Shay?” he asked.

“In the Waldorf Astoria, close to Helen.”

“The Waldorf Astoria,” the man said, chuckling quietly. “How lavish you are. It’s still in good condition then?”

“It’s in perfect condition,” Shay said. “The looters never got anywhere near it, thank God. It’s a piece of history as far as I’m concerned.”

The man pointed to the station as they approached the door.

“This one’s a piece of history too,” he said. “Grand Central, I’ll be damned. I remember this place from back in the day – it’s classic New York.”

“For me it’s a symbol,” Shay said, looking up towards the roof with a proud eye. “This place, it changes with the times – this was actually the third station to occupy the site here. Back in the early twentieth century this building embodied the ascent of New York. It expanded in harmony with the city’s growth, a constant symbol of change, going back to when they razed the old building to construct a new station, replacing the steam locomotives with electric trains.”

“You know your history,” the man said. “Well done.”

“I’m a proud New Yorker,” Shay said. “Born and bred. And I’m sure this building survived for a reason. It represented regrowth in the past and that’s what we’re all about now. What this is about. The Complex. The Project. That’s why we sent out the ambassadors and it’s why you’re here today. This building will oversee the preservation of the human race. And not a moment too soon – we’re running out of time.”

“Yeah,” the grinning man said.

“Let me show you inside,” Shay said.

As they walked towards the door, Shay pointed at a row of long, rectangular flowerbeds outside the building’s exterior. Short stretches of awning leaned over the flowerbeds, offering at least some shelter from the strong winds that often accompanied the rain.

“We call them the gardens,” she said, lowering the umbrella and closing it before walking inside. “But really it’s just a small collection of plant foods that we grow – they’re our lifeline. We keep mostly, low-maintenance crops – potatoes, beetroot, carrots, kale, onions – and some others. A quick weed, water and little fuss.”

She pointed a finger towards the sky.

“The water comes easy – that’s one good thing about all the rain. It’s low-input, high-output in terms of the food we grow here, and that’s good because we have over a hundred and fifty mouths to feed. We have some wonderful gardeners and chefs here at the Complex. And you help out too sometimes, don’t you Eda?”

Eda was still lagging a few paces behind.

“A little gardening sometimes,” she said with a shrug. “Nothing much.”

“How do you store the water?” the grinning man asked.

“We have large barrels to collect the rainwater,” Shay said. “There’s plenty of water kept in storage. It’s a crude system overall but it works extremely well. It’s amazing how much water we can accumulate from just one large rainfall. There’s no excuse for dying of thirst anymore.”

The man glanced over his shoulder at Eda.

“That your kid?” he asked Shay.

“Eda?” Shay said. “No. Eda never knew her mother, not really. She was orphaned at a very young age during the war.”

“What is she?” the man said. “Thirty? Thirty-five? I haven’t seen anyone that young in a long time.”

Shay nodded. “Considering how things are, I’d wager she’s one of the youngest people left in the country. Most of us in the Complex are in our fifties, sixties or older.”

“Yeah I noticed,” the man said. “And what about Helen?”

“She’s roughly around Eda’s age,” Shay said.

“Thank Christ for that,” the grinning man said.

As they walked further into Grand Central, he whistled his appreciation.

“This place is gorgeous,” he said.

“Yes it is,” Shay said.

The main concourse in Grand Central was almost three hundred feet in length. A massive celestial ceiling, twelve stories high, adorned the concourse, painted with two and a half thousand stars and zodiac constellations. The information booth and the ticket vending machines gave the impression that the station was still operational. Eda’s favorite feature however, was the four clock faces located on top of the information booth, all made from opal.

“So this is where you girls hang out?” the grinning man said.

“This is where we gather,” Shay said. “This is where we grow, think and plan for the future of our species. The Project – the dream of reconstruction was first born here.”

The man made a loud snorting noise.

“You’re sure as hell clinging on to the past,” he said, shaking his head. “Who says we even deserve a second chance? After everything that happened.”

“We’re clinging onto life,” Shay said. “And it’s not the past we’re interested in, it’s the future.” She pointed to a variety of large and small pot plants on the outskirts of the concourse. “Life goes on, inside and outside this building. It will continue to do so with the right amount of love and care. Life surrounds us. It’s stubborn and has an inherent will to survive, and yet the one form of life that we seek to prolong most of all eludes us.”

“Guess that’s why I’m here,” the man said. “Right? You need somebody to water that special plant you’re keeping in the Waldorf.”

There was a grim look on Shay’s face. Her skin looked pallid and thin.

“If only it were so simple,” she said in a quiet voice.

The grinning man frowned. Eda imagined that he’d been quite a physical specimen many years ago. He was still a force now but age, along with life’s wear and tear, had manifested on his giant body in the form of gray hair, wrinkles and a slightly protruding gut.

“It’s simple enough,” he said to Shay. “I move into the Waldorf and put a baby inside your queen. Look, I might be sixty-something years old but I’m probably the most fertile man you ever saw in your life. I had four young boys before the war and…”

He stopped all of sudden. It was as if he was unable or unwilling to continue down that line of thought.

“Never mind,” he said.

“You’re very confident,” Shay said. “I can see that. But so were all the other men who came through here before you. Just like you, they said all the right things before they went to see Helen. Tell me something if you please. Why don’t you fear the curse?”

 

The Curse (After the End Trilogy #1) is now available on Amazon. Click here for more info.

 

Mr Apocalypse (Chapter Sample)

 

The walk to the New River always filled him with dread.

He made his way along Stanmore Road, his hands gripped tightly around the steel handles of the wheelbarrow. It was a miracle the old thing was still in one piece. The blue paint on the tray had mostly flaked off and the tire wasn’t far from being completely flat. It was long overdue for the scrapheap or at least a major reworking that might give it a second chance at life. It was worth a shot. He’d been spending too much of his spare time staring into space and thinking about the past and his parents. Maybe it was time to do something practical. To be constructive.

He travelled west. The morning air had cooled slightly and he’d decided to wear his dad’s old leather jacket over his usual black t-shirt and jeans. As he walked, he could hear the helicopters in the distance. They were moving towards Central London, which meant that most of the drops in the north had already been made. The supply parcel would be there waiting for him at the river – sitting on the edge of the walkway like it always was. Maybe he’d get lucky and find two of them today.

He cut through the overgrown jungle that was once Ducketts Common. It had once been a well-manicured public space where people had picnicked and organised community fun days – now it was wild and vaguely threatening in its unkempt appearance. The pathway that cut through the common was barely visible anymore. It would probably have been buried underneath the grass altogether if not for his once-weekly visits to flatten it out.

Just as he was leaving the Common, his eye caught sight of something lying a few feet from the concrete, half-buried by a mound of drooping grass.

It was an envelope.

He put the wheelbarrow down and stared at the white paper. It was peering out at him in between the long blades of green grass. He took a look around. Standing still made him more than a little nervous. But curiosity got the better of him like it always did. He walked over to the envelope and picked it up. It felt slightly damp and was tattered at the edges. Although it had looked white from a distance, time had dulled the exterior to a warm shade of yellowy brown.

Tucking the envelope into his back pocket, he looked around again. All clear. He picked up the handles of the wheelbarrow and continued towards the New River.

He walked down Hampden Road. It had been a long time since he’d bothered with the local sights and when he passed the old Methodist church on his right hand side, he barely glanced in its direction. Still, on more than occasion he’d felt compelled to go into that place, sit down and see what happened. Not necessarily to ask for a miracle, but ask for something. But he never did go in. It was a large building and there was always the possibility that someone or something was lurking in there.

He didn’t linger around the houses on Hampden Road either. They were still and silent. There was something menacing about them. The gardens were overgrown wastelands with bloated hedges and wheelie bins that were drowning in grass and yet still neatly stacked in driveways. There were no cars on the street. Not surprising, most people had driven out of London back in 2011. It was the surest way of getting out in time and if you didn’t have a car, he imagined that people had begged for lifts off neighbours and strangers, filling the vehicles up until they were literally stuffed with bodies.

Whirr-Click.

He walked faster, making his way to the end of Hampden Road and then towards the grassy descent that led to the New River. Parking his wheelbarrow at the edge of the road, he climbed over a short metal fence and walked down towards the water.

The New River wasn’t exactly a river. It wasn’t new either. He remembered back in 2011 when he’d first moved to London, the disappointment he’d felt upon seeing it for the first time. If it was a river, then it was the skinniest fucking river in the world. It had an interesting enough history – it had been completed in 1613, and it functioned as a water supply aqueduct that brought clean drinking water from Hertfordshire into North London. It was a narrow waterway, barely the width of a small canal, and with a stone footpath running alongside which made for a pleasant walk.

It was upon this stone footpath that he now walked along, his eyes searching for a glimpse of the parcel. In the early years the supply crews had dropped several parcels on this footpath alone and in the neighbourhood as a whole. These were intended for the local residents but the number of people in the area had dropped significantly and many parcels were left untouched. Now there were only one or two parcels at most. That was why it was so important that he showed up at the river every week and why he meticulously counted seven days from each drop to the next – if he were to miss one Drop Day and if the parcel was left untouched then the helicopters would probably stop coming altogether.

He walked along the path. Every thirty seconds or so he’d look back towards the fence, keeping an eye on his parked wheelbarrow. That there was no one around to steal it didn’t matter. The need to protect his property was an urge that he couldn’t shake off, a deep-rooted instinct that belonged to another time.

After a short walk, he found the parcel. It was sitting on the side of the path furthest from the river, close to a fence that blocked off the back of a residential area. Supplies were always dropped in the same large white sacks, which were about the size of a king-size pillow. They looked similar to the type of packaging that he recalled seeing on old news broadcasts in which aid was delivered to Third World countries during the height of a famine.

Squatting down, he picked up the bag and hoisted it over his head. The package pressed against his shoulders and neck. He took a deep breath and secured his footing on the path. Packages were heavy – they were literally stuffed with the likes of fresh fruit, bread, meat, as well as toiletry items including toothpaste and toilet paper. All bundled into one sack and designed to last precisely a week until the next drop. Of course it never did last that long. He never understood why the parcels were always bulked out with large ice pads and absorbent pads, not to mention a shitload of scrunched up paper that was supposed to protect it from damage. But there was a lot of paper. They could easily have done away with some of the internal packaging and put some more food in there.

He looked around for a glimpse of a second parcel. Not that he was feeling lucky but it was worth taking a moment to look. If it were anywhere it would have been dropped further down the path. It would be nice to have it if it was there, to have a little more food in the house for the coming week.

Still holding the parcel over his head, he hurried back down the footpath towards the fence. Once there, he forced the sack through a large gap in between the metal bars and it dropped into the perfectly positioned wheelbarrow with a thud. Then he turned around hurried back down towards the footpath.

Five minutes. But don’t go too far, okay?

Okay.

By now the sun had come back out and the leather jacket on his back was getting heavier. His eyes glanced longingly at the river. What would it be like to take a dip in there? To soak his skin – would the water feel as good as it looked right now basking under the sunlight? Was this the warm bath that he’d been waiting for?

He stopped walking.

A noise. Behind him. Close – how had he missed its approach?

He spun around and his blood ran cold.

It was a man or something like a man. Staggering towards him. It was wildly bearded with hungry eyes that looked through him. It wore the tattered remnants of what appeared to be a navy suit, its colour and style long gone, the fabric bedraggled and in ruin. Half a tie swung from the collar as if someone had taken a pair of scissors and cut right through it. The red skin on the savage face was a mess – riddled with painful looking sores. Its nose was badly burned at the tip – either the result of excessive sun damage or it had been disfigured by fire. Its lips were dry, with chunks of dead skin attached. In one hand it brandished a filthy looking butchers knife and as it approached, the savage stabbed repeatedly at thin air, back and forth, like some sort of pre-murder ritual.

Seconds later, it lunged forwards.

He only just managed to get out of the way of its attack. He moved his feet backwards and manoeuvred his body out of range of the blade. Somewhere in the back of his mind he heard a voice repeating over and over:

‘Distance. Range. Distance. Range.’

The savage swung the blade with little skill, but what it lacked in finesse it made up for in ferocity. It aimed at his midsection. With every reckless thrust, came a primordial grunt that sounded something other than human. He was forced to retreat backwards and at such speed that he tripped and fell onto the grass behind him. At that moment, he was vulnerable. The world was upside down. He fought furiously to regain his coordination, all the while preparing himself for the sensation of a steel blade piercing his skin.

Fortunately the savage had already slowed under the heat. Its ferocious assault was now somewhat laboured and it failed to take advantage of this opportunity to finish the fallen man. It came after him but slower, like a raggedy man plodding through quicksand. It had lost his explosiveness and its breathing was heavy. Still, it wielded the butcher’s knife with the same murderous intent. That look of ravenous hunger in its eyes had not tired.

The savage squatted slightly, as if it was about to leap on top of him. But as it came forward, he launched a vicious upkick from the ground that caught the beast smack on its nose. Upon impact, the butcher’s knife flew out of its hand and the savage yelped and stumbled back towards the river’s edge. It put its sunburned hands over the damaged nose, which was leaking blood at a furious rate.

Quickly he rolled over to his right in order to grab the knife. But the savage was back before he could get there. The thing that was no longer human mounted him and threw down a volley of deranged punches at his face. As it did so, blood dripped from its nose and landed on his face like warm raindrops. It leaned forward, baring its rotten, yellowy teeth and snapping at his face like a vicious dog. Its breath smelt of death.

From the ground, he wrapped one hand around the savage’s throat. Then he pushed its head back with everything he had, forcing those foul teeth away from his face. It wasn’t hard to budge the neck – it felt as if the muscles inside the thing had wasted away, which meant it was running on little else but rage and hunger.

With the other hand, he reached frantically for the butcher’s knife lying at his side.

As he did so, the savage squealed with excitement.

After several attempts, he found the handle of the butcher’s knife. Without hesitation he brought it up and thrust it in a sideways motion, aiming directly at the savage’s brain. He missed the target and instead of going through its head, the blade slashed across its face, carving open a long and deep tear that ran down from the eyes to chin.

The savage screamed. It was a hideous sound. Then it fell backwards, its hand trying to stem the rapid flow of blood that was gushing out of its face.

He hurried to his feet, sensing that this was his chance to finish the job. But to his surprise, the savage wasn’t done yet. It charged at him once again despite the fact that its face was barely hanging on at the side.

It came forward at a manic speed. Fast and yet clumsy, like a throwback down the evolutionary ladder. It screamed, like a squealing pig hurtling towards its own doom.

He thrust the knife forwards. The blade found its home in the upper torso, entering deep into the stomach. There was no doubt now – it was over.

He took his blood-soaked hands off the blade and stepped away, his heart pounding, his lungs grasping for breath in the hot air.

The savage looked down at the butcher’s knife that was stuck in its chest. At the same time its face was still leaking litres of blood. With surprising gentleness, it tugged on the handle of the knife. Then realising it wasn’t going to come out, it let go again. It staggered backwards. The wild look in its eyes became something else. Serene. The fury faded to blackness. It seemed to accept what had happened and perhaps in its final moments, it remembered what it had once been.

It took another step back. This time it tumbled over the edge and fell backwards into the river. There was a loud splash and then silence.

He walked over to the edge and looked down. The body was floating in the shallow water. He stayed there for about a minute, trying to convince himself that the thing down there was indeed dead. That it wouldn’t come after him.

Then he took off, running towards the wheelbarrow.

***

He lay under the bed sheets for hours. His body shook violently as he saw the rotten teeth snapping at his face over and over again.

He could still its breath in the bedroom.

He’d already been sick six times and it showed no sign of stopping, despite the fact that there was nothing left in his body to throw up. All his strength was gone. Still he went back and forth between the bedroom and the bathroom, dry retching with all his might in an attempt to feel better, to vomit the experience and memory of what had happened.

After the seventh trip to the bathroom, he collapsed on the floor. His chest felt sore and dry. All he wanted to do was to get back to bed and stay there until he felt something other than what he was feeling. He crawled out of the bathroom on all fours into the hallway, steadily making his way to the bedroom.

Then he saw it.

It was curled up, tucked in between the hallway floor and the gap under the door – the door to the room that had been his parents’ bedroom. It was a hair – a simple hair, but it wasn’t his. This one was far too long to have ever belonged on his head.

His mother’s hair.

Gently, he reached out and clamped two fingers around the hair. He brought it towards his face and marvelled at its beauty, like someone with gold fever looking at a pan full of treasure. Such a simple thing. A single strand of tawny hair that shone in the sunlight. It could have fallen from his mother’s head that same morning.

He closed his eyes and tried to remember her face. The little things. How she had looked when she smiled and even the peculiar things, like the way her top lip twitched when she was angry with him.

But he couldn’t see her anymore.

All he could see were a set of rotten teeth, still snapping hungrily at his face.

 

Mr Apocalypse (Future of London #2) is available at these retailers:

https://books2read.com/MrApocalypse

L-2011 (Future of London #1) is now free to download:

https://books2read.com/L-2011

‘Here We Go Again’ (‘FAB: The Fifth Angel’) – Sample Chapter

 

December 7th (1995)

When Vogel woke up in his apartment later that morning, he was fully dressed and lying face down on the couch.

The telephone was ringing.

Considering how far his hangover had progressed since he’d passed out in the early hours of the morning, the sound of a phone might as well have been the rumblings of a major earthquake.

He glanced over at the digital clock on the window ledge. 7:34 am.

Vogel put a hand to his head. It felt like there was a berserker up there wielding a pneumatic drill and doing bad things to his cranium. He sat up slowly on the couch, almost gagging on the scent of his own breath, which consisted of a dense cloud of stale tobacco and alcohol.

Dear God, said the old Vogel.

He got to his feet and staggered over to the small desk on the other side of the room.

The large wooden desk was buried beneath a pile of papers and unopened mail, as well as empty takeaway boxes, coffee cups, and beer bottles. Just one glance at the takeaway boxes, with little bits of stale food clinging to the cardboard, was enough to make Vogel’s guts heave.

He picked up the phone, glancing around for a source of water. No such luck. He noticed however, that there was a little liquid left inside one of the beer bottles. Christ knew how long it had been there, but it was wet and at that moment, Vogel’s throat felt like the surface of the Atacama Desert.

He put the bottle to his lips and drained what was left. His body convulsed mildly at the impact, but nonetheless Vogel looked at the other bottles on the table, shaking them and checking for any leftovers.

“Frank Vogel,” he said in a croaky voice, bringing the receiver to his ear.

“Frank,” said a man’s voice. “How are you old chap?”

Vogel recognised the chirpy, upper-class English accent immediately. It was an old colleague of his from the UK, but damn it, he’d only gone and forgotten the guy’s name.

“Oh couldn’t be better,” Vogel said. “How about you? How’s, uhh…”

The other man was laughing down the phone.

“You’ve forgotten my name, haven’t you?” the caller said. “Has it really been that long Frank?”

“No,” Vogel said. “Yes, I guess it has. I’m sorry, I had kind of a rough night. You’re my London friend, aren’t you?”

“It has been a long time Frank.”

Finally it clicked.

“Owen!” Vogel said. “Owen Baird. MI5. Shit, I’m so sorry man.”

Owen Baird laughed again. “It’s so wonderful to be remembered.”

Frank Vogel and Owen Baird had known each other since the early eighties. In his FBI days, Vogel had had several European contacts during the Cold War era – a handy thing to have when dealing with the threat of foreign spies sneaking into the United States on a constant basis. Likewise, Vogel had proved to be a reliable source of information for Baird regarding American defectors making their way into the UK and Europe.

The two men were about the same age. Baird was an old hand at the security game, having been involved in specialist intelligence roles, concerning Northern Ireland and other internal threats to the UK. The Brit was old school: efficient, disciplined and above all, effective. In short, he was the British equivalent of everything that Vogel used to be.

Despite their years of mutual cooperation, Vogel and Baird had met only once – in London back in 1986. And that had been a personal occasion, as Vogel and Angie had been holidaying in the UK at the time. Vogel had mentioned the trip in advance to Baird, and the Englishman had suggested they meet up with their spouses. It had been a pleasant night all round, spent in a charming West End restaurant, before the two couples had taken in a few local bars.

Had they lived closer to one another, the Vogels and the Bairds would have undoubtedly been best friends.

But what mattered most of all, was that since Vogel’s fall from grace in 1988, Owen Baird – who Vogel recalled as a dead ringer for the old English actor, James Mason – had been the only one of his international contacts not to slam the door in his face. On the contrary, Baird had helped Vogel in his ongoing search for John Lennon, sending occasional tips his way. But it had been a long time since the last one. Not surprising, as sightings of Lennon had dipped with the passing of the years.

“You do sound rough Frank,” Baird said. “Is everything alright? Are you and Angie still…?”

“Separated?” Vogel said, sitting down behind the desk. “Yeah.”

“I’m sorry to hear that Frank.”

“Yeah,” Vogel said. “Me too. How’s Cecilia?”

“Smashing,” Baird said. “She’s taken up a new hobby lately – lawn bowls. I’ve even had to join in with her on Sunday afternoons. God help us Frank, we’ve turned into a right pair of stodgy old gits.”

Vogel smiled. “Sounds great. Is she any good?”

“At bowls?” Baird said. “Good lord, no. There’s more chance of England winning another World Cup than there is of Cecilia hitting the jack. She’s bloody hopeless.”

“Yeah,” Vogel said. “Still, it sounds nice.”

“Anyway,” Baird said, moving on. “Enough with the pleasantries. I’m sorry to hear you’re not feeling well Frank. It’s not surprising of course, considering what you’ve been through these past few years. Ghastly business.”

“It sure is,” Vogel said, wincing at the morning light outside. He reached over and pulled the blinds, plunging the room into a pleasant grey-darkness.

“Well,” Baird said. “I might have just the thing to make you feel better.”

Vogel raised his eyebrows. “Oh yeah?”

“Of course it might be nothing,” Baird said. “And I most certainly don’t want to get your hopes up. But would I be right to assume that you’re still interested in any news regarding our absent Liverpudlian friend?”

“”That depends Owen,” Vogel said. “Is it as good as Paris?”

“Ahh,” Baird said. “Paris. We came so close, didn’t we? I had a good feeling about Paris. And I’ve got a good feeling about this one too. Oh and by the way, did you get the package I sent over?”

Vogel glanced at a small mountain of unopened mail on his desk. “Package?”

“Yes,” Baird said. “Well, not much of a package really – just a magazine. I sent it over a couple of weeks ago. Should be there by now.”

“Give me a second Owen, will you?” Vogel said.

“Of course.”

Vogel put the phone on the desk and began rummaging through a pile of letters. Bills and more bills – how could such a small apartment gather so many bills? He’d really have to start opening his mail. It was either that or come home one night and find the electricity cut off. There was something else on the desk that looked like a birthday card – was it his birthday soon? There were at least a dozen letters from the bank too, which he pushed aside to reveal an A4 sized manila envelope. Vogel pulled it free and looked at the postmark in the corner – London.

He picked up the phone. “Got it Owen,” he said. “Sorry, I must have put it down and lost track.”

“Open it now,” Baird said.

“Sure thing.”

Vogel tucked the receiver in between his ear and shoulder, and then ran his finger over the top of the envelope, tearing it open. From inside, he pulled out a magazine – a pop music magazine called Sounds and Beats. On the front cover were four scruffy looking lads in their early twenties wearing sweaters and jeans. All four of them were holding a corner of a large Union Jack flag and looking at the camera. None of them were smiling.

The headline read:

THE ANGELICAS: BRITPOP’S LATEST SENSATION!

In particular, Vogel noticed the style of haircuts on the young men – Beatle haircuts.

“What’s this Owen?” he said.

“Are you looking at the magazine?” Baird asked.

“Yeah I am,” Vogel said. “I’m looking. Does Cecilia know you’ve got a thing for these guys?”

Owen Baird laughed. “Have you ever heard of The Angelicas?” he asked. “Come to think of it, have you ever heard of this ‘Britpop’ music phenomenon? It’s going down a storm over here in the UK.”

“Britpop?” Vogel said. “What the hell is Britpop? Is that some sort of limey soda?”

“Not quite,” Baird said. His tone was all business now. “I didn’t think it would be big news in the States. Not yet anyway, hence why I’m getting in touch to give you a nudge. And that’s why I sent that Angelicas article over for you to read.”

“What’s Britpop Owen?”

“Oh it’s a name they’ve given to this sound – this movement – an explosion of guitar bands that’s taken off with all the kids over here. Oasis, Blur – you’ve heard of them, haven’t you?”

“No,” Vogel said.

“Then you’ve absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

“No,” Vogel said. “C’mon spit it out Owen. I’m feeling a little delicate here.”

“Listen Frank,” Baird said. “One of the most striking things about Britpop and all these bands is the huge Beatles influence upon them. I mean, look at the haircuts on those lads. They’re all like that, all these bands – they’re all obsessed with ripping off The Beatles apparently.”

Vogel looked at the cover. “Yeah I see the hair,” he said. “But I’m still not sure where you’re going with this.”

“Just read the article,” Baird said. “You’ll understand everything after you’ve read it. Remember, it might be nothing Frank. But you always said you wanted to know about any leads about Lennon.”

Vogel sat up straight. “What’s the lead?”

“The Fifth Angel,” Baird said.

“The what?”

“The Fifth Angel,” Baird said again. “The Angelicas are affectionately known by their fans as ‘the Angels’. It’s like a nickname. You understand?”

“Yeah,” Vogel said.

“The article in that magazine is called ‘The Fifth Angel’. And as you can see from the cover, there are only four members of The Angelicas. Look Frank, it’ll all make sense once you’ve read the article.”

Vogel sighed. It sounded confusing. “You’re saying this is as good as Paris?”

“I am,” Baird said.

Paris had been Owen Baird’s best tip about the whereabouts of John Lennon. It had come six years ago in 1989, before Vogel had left the FBI and before his wife had thrown him out of the family home in Manhattan. Baird had contacted Vogel about an Englishman named Jon Leyden, who was found to be living in Paris at that time. Baird had received word from an MI6 contact based in Paris that Leyden, a British citizen, bore a remarkable resemblance to John Lennon. The MI6 agent had undertaken a short period of part-time surveillance, and after watching Leyden for a few days, was convinced that it was indeed John Lennon.

The agent sent a report to Baird about Leyden’s daily routine. Leyden laid low by day, working as a caretaker in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. He was also discovered to be playing rhythm guitar in a local rock band and occasionally performed in a small club on the outskirts of the city. After finding this out, Baird had subsequently reported the findings to Vogel, who was in Buenos Aires following up on another Lennon lead.

After hearing this, Vogel had abandoned his lead in Argentina. He’d already neglected his immediate duties with the FBI to travel to Buenos Aires, so a few more days in Paris wouldn’t make much difference. He flew to France the next day. The plan was that he would take over from the MI6 agent on surveillance at the Pere Lachaise. Then, if fully convinced that Leyden was Lennon, he would swoop in and take him down.

Vogel had arrived in Paris at about five o’clock in the morning. After freshening up in the airport restroom, he took a taxi straight to Pere Lachaise. In hindsight, he should have gone to the hotel and got some rest, but he was far too excited about the possibility of encountering Lennon again to think about sleep.

The cemetery opened at 8:00 am. Vogel arrived outside the gates almost an hour early, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the caretaker, the man called Jon Leyden.

Time passed slowly. Vogel had positioned himself near the wall at the main gate and sat down for a few minutes. Then his eyelids began to grow heavy. He felt his brain shutting down and everything inside him was crying out for a proper sleep. A few minutes later, he closed his eyes, intending to shut them only for a few minutes. To rest them, as they say.

When Vogel awoke, it was 8.27am.

In a state of panic, he covered every inch of the cemetery – passing the graves of famous and long-dead people such as Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, and Jim Morrison. But no matter how much ground he covered – and he covered a lot – there was no sign of the caretaker. There was no sign of Jon Leyden.

Vogel had returned to the cemetery the following three mornings. But Jon Leyden was never seen or heard of again in Paris. Vogel talked to his employers in the cemetery and with people at the club where Leydon had been known to play occasionally. Nobody had seen him for a few days, they’d said. It was as if he’d just upped and disappeared without a trace.

Vogel had taken this near miss particularly hard. His self-loathing had only increased due to the fact that he’d blown it by falling asleep outside Pere Lachaise. He was convinced that Lennon must have seen him sleeping outside the gates and recognised him as that FBI agent from New York. It was the only explanation for Leyden’s sudden disappearance that made sense.

Vogel had fucked up.

Paris was the best tip he’d ever had in his search for Lennon. And as Baird said, they’d come so close – so close to catching Lennon and ending it. If only Vogel had been able to hold his shit together, it would have happened. Baird’s information had been good then, and Vogel had no reason to believe that this Fifth Angel thing – whatever it was – wasn’t worth looking into further.

“Thanks for this Owen,” Vogel said. “I’ll read the article, but I’m not sure I can just hop on a plane and jet around the world anymore.”

“Do whatever you think best Frank,” Baird said. “Let it go if you have to. God knows, you’ve tried enough as it is.”

“Yeah,” Vogel said. “I’ve tried.”

“Read the article and take it from there,” Baird said. “Okay? And if you think there’s something interesting in all this and you do decide to come over, let me know – we’ll do dinner in the West End. You, me and Cecilia. Our treat.”

“Sure will Owen. Thanks.”

“Let me give you my private number,” Baird said. “If you need to contact me – it’ll save you faffing about trying to get a hold of me at the office. This one comes direct to me.”

Vogel scribbled down the number on the back of a discarded envelope.

“Thanks Owen,” he said. “Appreciate it.”

“Goodbye Frank,” Baird said. “Look after yourself.”

Vogel hung up the phone. He stole another glance at the magazine lying on the desk and before he knew what he was doing, he was reaching across the table, his fingers eagerly turning the pages.

***

FAB: The Fifth Angel is available here.

The first book in the series ‘FAB’ is free to purchase at most retailers – Click here.

L-2011 (Sample) – Chester George vs Parliament

 

Below is a sample chapter from L-2011 (Future of London Series #1)

 

Transcript of a video uploaded to YouTube.com (posted on 11th August 2011)

Chester George is wearing the same black skull hoodie as before, zipped up over his face, with the luminous skull design leering back at the camera. He’s standing in the same room as during the last broadcast, surrounded by punk rock posters and little else.

‘Straight to Hell’ by The Clash, is playing softly in the background.

When Chester George speaks, he does so in that quiet raspy, almost snake-like voice:

***

“Mr Prime Minister and all the politicians in the Houses of Parliament.

That was a poor pretence of unity yesterday. Yet you said everything that you were expected to say.

Which wasn’t much.

I feel however, that I must add something on behalf of the people you are trying to understand – something you forgot to mention amidst your feeble efforts to put on such a united front.

You ask: why are so many of them quick to steal? It’s criminality you say. It’s the fault of our parents, you say. Or it’s our sick culture.

Sssssick.

It’s quite simple to you and all the other MPs – we’re simply rotten from within. Our communities have no morals. This is nothing you cannot comfortably classify as a revolt of the feral underclass – is it Mr Prime Minister?”

But YOU are too humble sir. You forgot to mention yesterday how much the greed and selfishness that we see in the city inspires us to be as rotten as we are.

Our conception of right and wrong comes from more than just our parents. Have you forgotten Mr Prime Minister? Just a few years back, the bankers publicly looted this country’s fortune. When they did that, they showed us that the acquisition of individual wealth is clearly a measure of success. They took millions and destroyed people’s life savings. They were caught red-handed, but very few were punished. And yet you criticise us – the Good and Honest Citizens – for taking a mobile phone or a pair of shoes?”

Chester George moves towards the camera.

“And what about all the MPs who got caught fiddling their expenses? You must remember that one Mr Prime Minister? Or how about the phone-hacking scandals?”

Chester George lets out a throaty laugh.

“If we are devils, then we learned how to be devils from the very best. You – the suits and ties – are the original looters of this country. The original gangsters.

Now of course, I understand your reasoning for trying to label us. If there are no sociological, political or economic causes for the revolution that you call the riots, then no one in authority is to blame.”

He wags a gloved finger from side to side.

“Such irresponsible behaviour from our so-called leaders.

Mr Prime Minister. The worst violence London has seen for decades is happening against the backdrop of a global economic meltdown. It’s never pretty when society wakes up, is it? But society is waking up. That’s what this is. We live in an uneven world of uneven wages and opportunities. Did you know Mr Prime Minister, that last year the combined wealth of the one thousand richest people in Britain went up by thirty per cent to over three hundred billion pounds?

Isn’t that a remarkable number?

London is now one of the most unequal cities in the developed world. You and your kind have turned it into a gigantic shopping mall. And yet you expect our kind to be satisfied with only window-shopping.

Mr Prime Minister. What you see now on the streets of London – and in other cities waking up – is the result of a society that’s been run on greed. For us – the Good and Honest Citizens – there has been little cause for optimism and opportunities have been too few and far between.

Until now that is.

Last but not least – Mr Prime Minister, let me give you a word of advice. You would do well to pay closer attention to the private activities of your MPs and to the moral implications of the bankers involved in ‘casino capitalism’. It was white-collar vandalism that brought the world to its knees – not us. Remember that, the next time you talk about ‘criminality.’

Till next time.

 

L-2011 (Future of London Series #1) is available on Amazon and iTunes.

 

 

 

‘FAB’ Excerpt – ‘What If John Lennon Had Lived?’

 

Take your mind back.  It’s the 1980s.  Correction, it’s an alternate 1980s.  And in this alternate 1980s, former Beatle John Lennon (aka ‘the Walrus’) is still alive.

So what happens?

Still giving peace a chance John?

Or perhaps he’s gone the other way entirely?   After all, this is the 1980s and Gordon Gekko’s ‘greed is good’ philosophy is all the rage.

What else?

Do the Fab Four get back together?

Does he have big hair?

Does he have any hair?

And what’s going on with John and Yoko?  Are they still together?

Beware Beatles and in particular, Lennon fans – it’s probably not what you’re expecting.

Below is an excerpt from ‘FAB’ containing Chapters One and Two.  For a brief synopsis of the book, click here)

 

FAB

 

1: Interview

 

April 7th 1988. FBI New York Field Office.

 

Two men sit across from one another in a small room with no windows. A single spotlight hangs over the scratched wooden table that separates them.

 

VOGEL: All set Murphy?

 

JAGGER: Sure. Hey call me Jagger, huh? Nobody calls me Murphy. Except my sister.

 

Special Agent Frank Vogel pushes a tape recorder further across the table. At forty-eight, Vogel is one of the FBI’s finest operatives. He sits back in his seat and straightens up, showing off a lean and well-maintained body underneath his dark suit. His hair, neatly groomed and slicked back across his head, is still naturally jet-black.

 

VOGEL: Sure Jagger. No problem.

 

Murphy ‘Jagger’ Salmon acknowledges this with a lazy smile. But the milky white skin around his eyes is haggard and his long, violent red hair – a gift from his Irish heritage – hangs in part over his face, as if shielding him from the glare of the spotlight above. His thick beard is huge and unkempt. And in contrast to Vogel’s slick suit and tie, Jagger is dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, bright red and splattered with white floral shapes, and a pair of faded cream chinos and suede loafers.

 

VOGEL: I can’t believe I’m sitting here interviewing the legend. Murphy Salmon.

 

JAGGER: Just Jagger.

 

VOGEL: Right. Sorry.

 

JAGGER: So…

 

VOGEL: I have questions Jagger. Do you mind if we get going?

 

JAGGER: (Shaking his head.) No. Shoot.

 

VOGEL: We’ll start at the beginning then.

 

JAGGER: I was born? I was raised? You mean that beginning?

 

VOGEL: (Smiles) Not quite. How about we go back to Monday 8th December 1980? Eight years ago. You remember that day, huh?

 

Jagger leans back in his chair. He stares hungrily at the cigarette pack on the table.

 

JAGGER: You mean, the night I tripped up?

 

VOGEL: (Nods) Right.

 

JAGGER: You’re not the first person to ask for that story.

 

VOGEL: (Nodding) I’ll bet.

 

Jagger reaches for the pack of cigarettes. He pulls one out and taps it off the wooden surface three times. Then he pushes the cigarette between his lips and tosses the pack back onto the table.

 

JAGGER: Sure. I’ll tell you a story. Why not?

 

 

 

***

 

john_lennon_by_urbanartz

 

***

 

 

2: Saving Mr Lennon

 

December 8th 1980. New York City.

 

Murphy ‘Jagger’ Salmon was drunk. That much was certain. He might have even broken his own personal best when it came to rapid-fire consumption of Guinness. It was always the same when he walked into an Irish bar. He’d stroll through the door, tossing his long red hair all over the place like a shampoo ad for the gingers of the world. And when the tossing part was over, he’d wield his Celtic heritage like a club, pretending to one and all that Murphy was in fact his last name and not his first.

 

“Free pint o’ the black nectar?” Jagger would ask the barman in his best Irish accent. “I’m from County Cork you know.”

 

Most of the bartenders saw him coming. But for some reason, the staff in the Emerald Inn fell for his bullshit act. Not just one, but two freebies were given out that night. Jagger was so shocked that when he thanked the man for his second complimentary pint, he nearly lapsed back into his natural Brooklyn accent.

 

I’ll stay here awhile, he thought, watching the man pour another gift. He studied the man’s scientific approach to pouring the perfect pint of the black stuff – the tilt of the glass, the forty-five degree angle, leaving it to settle until a clear distinction had emerged between the dark body and the white head.

 

For sure he’d stay here a while.

 

Several hours later, he almost fell through the door of the Emerald Inn. He’d been watching Monday night football and he might have tried to tackle the front door. Jagger couldn’t remember. Still he turned around and gave the bastard a dirty look. Then he straightened himself up and tried to focus.

 

Where was he?

 

He was on West 72nd Street, he could remember that much.

 

Fucking hell, your Brooklyn ass is lost. He was even thinking in an Irish accent now. Hail a cab, said the drunk Irishman in his head. But Murphy ‘Jagger’ Salmon scoffed at the notion of seeking help. Like all drunks, he was indestructible.

 

“To hell with that,” said Jagger. “It’s only a five-minute walk to Annie’s apartment.”

 

But which way?

 

“Shit.”

 

Jagger was a New Yorker. It wasn’t like Manhattan was Madagascar to him. But he came from the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge and the streets of Manhattan were unfamiliar to him. He only came here once every five years to see his younger sister Annie, and to spend time with her two kids who he’d seen little of over the years. And in true form, on his first night with the family, Uncle Loser had gone for a ‘walk’ and ended up in the Emerald Inn, spending over half his weekly budget on drink.

She was going to be so pissed. Especially if he couldn’t get back to the apartment on his own.

 

Oh you absolute fuck up of a brother!

 

The task was simple. Get home. You’re perfectly capable of walking back to your sister’s apartment. It’s on West Sixty-Something Street, remember?

 

New York City.

 

But seven pints of Guinness and three (or was it four) Jack Daniels and Cokes were conspiring against him.

 

Jagger clenched a fist and shook it at the night sky.

 

“C’mon! Show me a sign or something.”

 

His Brooklyn accent had returned. Attempting to pull himself together, he turned on the switch. There’s an invisible switch inside every drunk and it goes on every time they walk through a pub door in a state of blind drunkenness. It’s like a homing beacon for alcoholics and no matter how far gone the individual is, it always brings them safely home. At least that’s how it usually worked for Jagger in Brooklyn. But this was Manhattan.

 

He looked to his left and right. With a shrug of the shoulders, he chose left and started walking down West 72nd Street. Like a lost tourist, his eyes searched near and far, seeking a glimpse of something familiar. He tried to keep track of the numbers on the various buildings, which he noticed were going down instead of up. Were they supposed to be doing that?

 

It was almost 11pm. That night was surprisingly mild for a New York winter. Good thing too, considering Jagger was dressed only in a pale green Hawaiian shirt, cream chinos, and a pair of Vans ‘Old Skool’ shoes.

 

He made his way down 72nd Street, walking past a blur of tall buildings. After about five minutes of moving in the same direction, he gradually became convinced that he’d made a mistake. That he should have turned right instead of left outside the pub.

 

Jagger stopped and looked around. Nothing looked remotely familiar. Turning his head in the direction from which he’d just travelled, he considered turning back towards the Emerald Inn. Maybe even partake in another free pint?

 

A little further along 72nd Street, a limousine pulled up at the side of the kerb.

 

A-ha. Maybe these rich assholes can point me towards West Sixty-Something Street, he thought. He walked closer to the vehicle, trying with all his might not to look like Mr Random Drunk Guy homing in on a flash car. But the more he tried, the more spectacularly he staggered.

 

“Ah fuck,” he said.

 

He looked down at the feet that were so cruelly betraying him.

 

“Now there’s a thing,” Jagger said.

 

The laces on both Vans were loose.

 

There was no time to do anything about it. The rear door of the limousine opened and a small Oriental-type woman got out. A man got out and followed at a short distance behind her. Jagger approached them, keeping his eyes on his laces, fearful of tripping up.

 

Somebody else was there too. On approach, Jagger noticed a chubby guy, skulking close to the vestibule. Jagger watched him take a few steps backwards towards the street. There was something in his hand but it was too dark to make it out.

 

Jagger turned his attention back to the business of staying upright. His laces were in an even worse state now.

 

The limo couple were getting away. They were heading towards the entrance of the building. With one eye on his laces and the other on the couple, he steered in that direction too. It was at that same moment that Jagger finally realised where he was. What this massive building beside him was. It was the Dakota building. Of course. Now as he walked after the rich assholes, he gazed up in awe at the gigantic and brooding apartment complex, its high gables poking into the night sky.

 

This building’s famous, Jagger thought, straining his neck. Didn’t Roman Polanski make a film about devil worshippers or something in there? That’s so…

 

CRACK. A sound. There was a high-pitched scream.

 

Jagger didn’t have time to think about what he’d just heard. At that moment, his knee collided into solid matter. He’d hit someone. A man cried out in pain and collapsed onto the ground. There was another sound too; the metallic clang of something hitting the concrete nearby.

 

“Watch where you’re going you fucking asshole!” Jagger yelled as he too fell backwards, nearly spilling onto the road.

 

The Irish accent was back.

 

Jagger felt nothing of the fall. This was largely thanks to the alcohol cushion he had on, not to mention the thick wall of beard protecting his face.

 

He lifted his head and saw something lying on the ground. Was that a gun?

 

Turning towards the Dakota, he saw the Oriental woman and the other guy, who had a 1950s Teddy Boy haircut, hurry into the safety of the building. They ran into the vestibule and in matter of seconds had vanished out of sight.

 

By now, the doorman of the Dakota had leapt on top of the gunman. Another person had jumped in to assist him. Between the two of them, they pinned the would-be-shooter down, flipped him over and twisted his arms behind his back, locking them up.

 

Jagger recognised the gunman. It was chubby guy from just a few moments back.

 

“You were going to shoot them,” the doorman screamed into chubby guy’s face. “You were going to kill them both. Weren’t you?”

 

Jagger climbed onto his knees. He watched as the doorman wrestled chubby guy to his feet. The gunman’s face was blank, emotionless, as if there was no one at home. He looked at Jagger with dead eyes as he was led away.

 

Jagger felt himself sobering up.

 

He tried to put the pieces together. What just happened here? The doorman said that he was going to shoot ‘them’. ‘Them’ who?

 

Others quickly arrived on the scene. Along with the Dakota Building’s doorman, they dragged the gunman closer to the building and held him down against the concrete.

 

“Call the police.” A voice shouted.

 

A moment later, the doorman hurried over to Jagger.

 

‘My friend,” he said. He spoke in an accent that was perhaps Latin American, and with all the enthusiasm of someone greeting a long lost brother. “You saved them. You’re a hero!’

 

The doorman offered a hand. Jagger took it and in one swift motion was pulled up onto his feet.

 

“I tripped actually,” Jagger said. “That’s the truth.”

 

“You’re too modest,” the doorman said. “Just like a true hero should be.”

 

More and more people were arriving outside the Dakota by the second. It was becoming a scene. And a crowded one at that.

 

“Uh…do you know where Annie Salmon lives?” Jagger asked the doorman. “She’s my sister.”

 

The doorman put an arm around Jagger. His grip was ferocious and Jagger found himself being led towards the crowds. Exactly where he didn’t want to go.

 

“This man is a hero,” the doorman declared to the world.

 

Some of the people gathered there broke into a round of applause. Jagger was too busy looking for gaps in the crowd to notice. There had to be a way out.

 

But the doorman had him locked up good. Occasionally, he would lean over and kiss Jagger on the cheek. Jagger relented and decided to go with it. So much easier to give in than to resist.

 

Sirens could be heard screaming towards the Dakota. In a matter of seconds, several police cars had pulled up outside the building. Some of the officers eyed Jagger, who was still on wobbly feet, with suspicion, as if they were thinking about grabbing him.

 

The doorman pulled them in the other direction.

 

“Not him. This guy,” he said.

 

Jagger put a hand up to shield his eyes from the flashing lights. His head was throbbing and if he’d done such a good thing then why had his hangover turned up so early? Was sort of a reward was that?

 

A huge crowd gathered to watch chubby guy being placed under arrest by the police. Even the excitable doorman got distracted. Jagger saw this as his chance to get back to the Emerald Inn.

 

“Shoulda called a cab,” he said, taking a few steps away from the scene.

 

Just then, a massive arm thrust itself around Jagger’s shoulder.

 

“Where are you going red-headed hero?” the doorman said. You saved them. It’s a Christmas miracle. Hallelujah.”

 

“It’s cool,” Jagger said. “No charge. But I gotta get back home fella.”

 

Jagger kept walking. The doorman walked with him, his arm still stubbornly positioned around Jagger’s shoulder.

 

“You’ve got to meet them both,” the doorman said, almost spitting out the words. “They’ll want to meet you. You’re their saviour.”

 

“Yeah,” Jagger said. But he was too busy thinking about Annie. And how she was probably waiting up for him with that pissed off look on her face that she did so well.  Getting ready to kick his ass.

 


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